Missing the enlightened trip

Update: 26/02/2018
Thuyền đời trôi dạt khi không có người hoa tiêu thông minh và bản lĩnh, một vị thầy hướng đạo là điều cần thiết cho những ai muốn đến được bến bờ kia. Có khi mưa gió bão bùng, có lúc trời trong dịu mát, có những lần ong bướm và cảnh vật ven sông níu bước chân người lữ khách phương xa. Mỗi người tự mình phải chèo chống con thuyền về bờ giác bằng mái chèo Bát Chánh...

Missing the enlightened trip


I just prepared a teapot, poured a few drops of lemongrass into the candle burner, and then took down from the bookshelf Buddhaghosa"s "Visuddhimagga" that I had borrowed in the afternoon. I thought: "Well, a peaceful evening on my own, immersing myself in the ancient source of dharma, what could be better?" Having sat down on the chair for three minutes, the phone rang, breaking the peaceful atmosphere. To be honest, using a phone for me is not exciting. I even see the monster as a debt on earth, bringing a lot of trouble, but I also justify myself that almost all my studies are attached to it: Contacting the teacher, downloading assignments on the group chat, following the Buddhist fanpage or… I had to put aside the dangers to use it in the most permanent state of consciousness.

The phone number was of a very familiar friend, I hit the accept button to start what was a long conversation. The "listening and understanding for a life with less suffering" of Bodhisattva is thoroughly used in this case. Because I know one thing, the person on the other end must trust me a lot to be calling at that time. The heavy feeling they were carrying in their mind may become slightly less so after they shared their secret with someone else. Those thoughts are like an invisible stone on the mosaic, just a person sitting quietly to listen to them talk and empty their burdened thoughts would be enough, no need for advice.

He and she worked together in a company, both migrated to Saigon for work. After four years of acquaintance, after all their conversations, suddenly one day, she realized she was falling in love with a guy 7 years younger than her. At first, they were both carefree and treated each other like brother and sister, he showed her how to do business, she helped him during times of illnesses and when he needed support in business. She passed her youth yet had never once dated, she did not expect that one day she would fall for a young man. She confided to me, at the age of forty, she no longer thought of settling down. As a Buddhist who learned about  Dharma for many years, she only hoped to help her brothers in the family, service the Three Jewels and save some money in the bank so that she could take care of herself later in life. She did not have enough courage to lead a life with strict precepts, but also was scared of facing the burden of taking care of a husband and many children every single day. Each person has different mindset and ways of living. I love her for her honesty, sense of humor and her willingness to help others. I also respect her decision, advising her every day to study dharma and meditation. Studying dharma brings wisdom to confront difficulties, to know right and wrong, to live and walk on the ethical path. Meditation brings strength to the mind and calmness to face life.

I do not know what her karma and past sins that brought her into such a dilemma. Her voice was very sad. She told him about her feelings and wanted to cut all contact but he disagreed. He was very respectful and did not want to lose a friend, a familiar "sister". As for her, she also struggled between her romantic feelings and her ideals. She also did not want to lose him. In a month or so, he would get married. She knew that. But the reasoning and the feelings of love in her were like two beasts tearing each other apart. A few days ago she joked: "I am half conscious half delirious." At that time I did not understand the reason. I thought an illness or a non-human species was haunting her. Now I know that it was not a ghost, but a human in the flesh. What is the "prescription" for her now?

Hanging up the phone, I folded the table and spread the mat out to start my evening meditation. But it seemed I was still preoccupied with her story instead of focusing on breathing. So I let my mind wandering on a strange land with the teachings of the Buddha accompanying me. I like to look at life through Buddhist teachings to better understand the nature of suffering, impermanence, non-self of life and related lines of causality. Buddhism is not only dry words in the triune. As I understand, the real value of the teachings must be seen and applied in this life.

The first time we meet a person, very rarely do we have the feeling of love immediately. Through the conversations, through the inquiries, gestures, kindness and many other things can our bond arise. There is a very good saying "the straw will ignite if placed near the fire". Many "accidental" things will be the clue to emotional problems. I am not a love expert, because as soon as I reached adulthood I was drawn towards the Three Jewels and temple practice. However, many things I know from life are also valuable lessons worth learning. Just a gift or a few chats could link two strangers together through an invisible wire called "love." Just some deviant thoughts or scattering of the mind could be enough for people to become lovestruck. The seed was planted from the past, with sufficient support, it will sprout into the tree, which would then bear fruit. In the lineage of samsara, everyone was the father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife,... of each other. In this life, it is hard to avoid the seeds of the past if one does not cleverly set the mind in the right direction.

She told me, every time he was sick and hospitalized, she was the one who cared for him little by little, from eating and drinking to cleaning the body to help with the fever. She would be there for him whenever he needed. Maybe, she was indebted to him. Each time she saw him, she would be very happy. Then she would be sad to see him call his girlfriend after recovering from an illness (It’s hard not to be when you are just a common person!). I thought to myself: "Oh dear! People know that it is suffering, but they seem to accept that suffering in exchange for fragile happiness. Karma? Or unconscious ignorance?" I suddenly remembered the shabby women in the poor neighborhood in my hometown. In the early hours of the day, they either go to work as a hired laborer or go out to the fields to plow their fields. After that they go to the market to buy some alcohol for their husbands to enjoy. Then they retreat to the kitchen to cook and take care of everything in the house. But they have no peace! Everything is fine when their husbands do not drink much, but when they do, the women will be beaten and scolded. Despite their suffering, those women still silently endure it till the end of their lives. When they pass away, there is nothing but misery to bring along. They use all sorts of reasons to defend themselves: they sacrifice for the husband, for the children, for the grandchildren; because of their unfortunate circumstances; because of the responsibility that the society accidentally placed on the woman"s shoulder. I think all of those . A wise person would be able to break free from all ties. A foolish person would silently endure the suffering and accept to sacrifice. The most important thing is to be brave, to be alert and wise enough to choose and know what paths to walk on and what thorny pits to avoid.

 Meditating upon your story, I feel sympathy for both of you, one of whom did not want to lose a strong relationship, a nice acquaintance and the other could not gather enough courage to break the natural bond, but embracing that beloved image instead then dreaming that seeing him is simply happiness. In the sutra, I remember one of the Buddha’s teachings, ‘You monks, men invade and reign women’s mind with their images, voices, smells, tastes and touching.’ Humans are bound to each other with particular invisible strings, and suffer sorrow when they cannot break the bond due to their lack of audacity.

In the history of Vietnamese folks, there are verses that I so truly and specially relish that I wonder whether our ancestors had practiced or learnt Consciousness Doctrine or Abhidharma so that their sayings are so profound and deep, ‘Thinking the well is deep, drop a long string; but the well is shallow, so I regret the string.’ To be honest, one’s life is mostly submerged in their own ‘illusions’. The present moment is passing rapidly, and the moments we see, hear, smell, taste and touch are very transitory, which is the consequence of what was made in the past (Whoever learnt Abhidharma would call this ‘the causal inhuman mind’, neither good nor evil; the good consequence is derived from a good source while the bad one is rooted in an evil source). One’s awareness and knowledge are mostly illusionary. We know that is a table or a chair, a man or a woman, black or white, etc. because of our assumption. Recalling the past is an illusion and dreaming about the future is also nothing but an illusion. All that is inferred, deduced and presumed is an illusion. A wrong illusion will lead to a whole wrong path. People usually share, ‘I thought he was a good man, but...’, or ‘I thought she was a decent girl, but who knows?’, ‘A year care, a minute ruin’. There is no point in regretting something thought, said or done wrongly. This ‘illusion’ is said to be neither kind nor evil, good or bad as everything with wisdom would go lucid and clear for brilliant solutions. Whereas, illusions driven by greed, anger and ignorance would lead to extreme sorrows.

Once heavily hit by the ‘love arrow’, one will constantly think about his or her beloved image, voice, look and smile. However, they are all products of his or her mind, which ‘infer, redraw, recall and rethink’ that they are absolutely beautiful, pure and exquisite. The nature, reversely, is not real, unsustainable and regularly changeable. I still keep in mind what was said by a monk, ‘We state we love someone and wish to live with that person forever, but what do we love about him or her with our constantly unsettled mind and his or her patched bodies? Let’s try making a question, ‘Dare we approach that person, who has died for three days and turned into a bruised corpse, to embrace or fondle him or her? Every new couple is always happy, yet has anyone thought what would happen tens of years later when the man was in bed, numb, half-closed eyes looking up at the ceiling while the woman was sitting in a wheelchair, bleary and mostly deaf to their descendants’ caring talks. This is the ending of the most beautiful love stories in which all lovers’ wish as well as their guests’ blessing on their wedding day is to live till a ripe old age. It must get on many people’s nerve that we are deceiving each other and ourselves every day.

I dare not share too many things with you as ‘The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of’. Due to your complaints, I just want to brief as follows, ‘You know your love is fruitless and you are in pains, in which I see some good points. Sitting down in peace, looking carefully at your own situation, you feel sorrowful, don’t you? So why are you miserable? That’s definitely because of love. How to escape sorrow? It is extremely difficult to talk you out of your love. Therefore, I hope you will keep calm and lucid to think twice about it so you can come up with appropriate actions. One more important thing is that you need to frequently try to reflect upon yourself and see through the issue. We have to confront the problem instead of evading it or blaming ourselves. (It seems that I have just mentioned The Fourth Noble Truths with the simplest explanation, doesn’t it?) Moreover, there is another way called ‘Autosuggestion’ by Westerners or in other words ‘self-deceit’. Normally, when you are sad thinking about him, chant these ‘magical words’: ‘It’s not smart to think like this. That’s burying yourself. You are deceiving me, aren’t you, my mind? Please be less stupid, or you will be painful. Wake up wake up!’ You can never ponder about two things at the same time, so for the time being you should use one thing to suppress the other, use right mindfulness to suppress wrong one. Bad things will go away soon.’

A girl’s life used to be compared to twelve ports by the ancients. No one knows which one is dim, which one is clear. A ferryboat crossing can also ruin one’s fate in love. All of a sudden, I associate it with the image of a human adrift on the river of life and death. How many times have we had to step on those ferryboats? On these boats, we have met these people and call them fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, teachers, friends, etc. Once the boats landfall, we have to share other ferryboats with other people. There have been times when we shared the ferryboats with those who were not intellectual or good, they were caught in a shoal of wrong viewpoints. There have been times when we were faced with cold and hunger on unoccupied ports which are mortal realms of three miserable paths. Our life boats will run adrift without a smart and brave navigator. A monk as an instructor is very necessary for those who want to land the other side of the port. There will be storms as well as gusty winds and cool weather, beautiful butterflies and scenic views by the river pulling the afar traveler. Each one of us has to row and punt very hard to bring the boat to the shore of enlightenment with the oar of the Eightfold Path. If you as well as a large amount of people in the same situation as you have any natural bonds to read this, I just want to remind you all, ‘Do not indulge in pleasures, or you will Missing the enlightened trip.


Kính Đức

 Translate  into English by Doan Thanh Truc and Nguyen Minh Thuy Tien

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